Israeli health minister warns of third wave, blasts cabinet decision to reopen shops

Yuli Edelstein says decision goes against Health Ministry recommendations, brings threat of a third wave of infection.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein Thursday criticized the cabinet decision to allow street-front stores to reopen next week, saying the government should have simply compensated retailers instead of risking an increased spread of the coronavirus.

“I do not understand the economic need for it – not in the sense that I do not understand the plight of business owners,” Edelstein said at a health conference sponsored by Channel 13 News.

“It would have been better to put [the government’s] hand into its pocket and compensate the business owners with real compensation, because the worst thing is to let them open and get [back] on track – and in a few weeks to tell them to close again,” Edelstein said. “That is really a blow that they will not be able to withstand.”

The cabinet Wednesday evening approved a decision to allow stores located on streets to reopen next week, with a maximum of four customers in a store at a time and all retailers obligated to meet all other health requirements of maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and having a plastic barrier around cash registers. All shopping malls in Israel remain closed.

“What kills us is populism, and the demands to open immediately and everything,” Edelstein said. “That is how we will bring the country to a third closure.”

Edelstein said the cabinet decision went against recommendations of the Health Ministry, which had called for the next stage of opening only after the average weekly infection rate had dropped to 500 a day.

Thursday morning the ministry released data showing 754 Israelis had tested positive for coronavirus in the past day. Of the 607 coronavirus patients currently hospitalized, 357 were listed in serious condition, less than half the number from a month ago but still too high for health officials.

Israel’s coronavirus death toll stands at 2,638.

“This is an unnecessary decision, we seemingly want to help businessmen but in fact are finally drowning them and we will eventually reach the third closure,” Edelstein told Ynet. Finance Minister Yisrael Katz had led a move to get moribund businesses reopened as retailers clamored for government action.